In the serie of eating like the locals instead of heading for the more touristic places, here’s a guide to Đà Nẵng with a little touch of Hội An.
Since my previous guide on Antigua, Guatemala, I haven’t changed my approach to picking new places to eat when traveling abroad—I still believe that a shop without any tourist is most likely to be a much tastier and authentic experience while also being way cheaper. Eating at a street shop is as safe as eating in those pseudo-restaurants for tourists, so stop worrying about getting sick and just do it.
If you are a foodie, I recommend you to take your time in Đà Nẵng as it has the reputation of hosting a great cuisine. I myself tend to agree with this statement to the point of always having missed the food from Đà Nẵng whenever I went to visit other Vietnamese cities. On top of that, it’s probably one of the cheapest place to live and eat in Vietnam—the price for a meal goes in average between 10,000 and 25,000 VND, which is within the $0.5-$1 USD range.
But the truth is that it took me some time to really appreciate the subtleties in the Vietnamese cuisine. At first, I did love each bit of the food that I tried, maybe at the exception of the duck blood jelly, but it was impossible for me to taste the difference between a same meal served in different places. My palate took a bit of time to develop and, after 6 months spent over there, I now have my favourite shops, which is what this little guide is all about.
The precise location for each shop listed in bold in this article is available in the Google Map linked below, as well as the kind of food that you should try there, and the approximate opening hours. Approximate because this kind of thing can get highly unpredictable in Vietnam, so don’t hold a grudge against me if a shop is closed when I mentioned the opposite.
Let’s get started with something typical from the central area of Vietnam. Mì Quảng is one of the most popular noodle dish around here and it is so tasty that it’s a real shame to not be available everywhere.
Its base is made of flat and thick rice noodles (mì) that are placed in a bowl filled with a bed of sauce. The whole is then topped with pork, shrimps, boiled eggs, peanuts, and fresh herbs. The bowls served this way look a bit empty but a plate of salad and bean sprouts is always served on the side for you to add some more consistency.
I unfortunately do not know of any good address for mì quảng in the city centre as I have exclusively been heading to an excellent place located nearby where I’ve been staying: the shop Vân.
Have as many as you can while you’ve got the chance!
Bún Thịt Nướng
The bún thịt nướng dish is one of my very favourites and consists mainly of vermicelli noodles (bún), grilled meat (thịt nướng) and some greens. It is usually poured with fish sauce (nước mắm), but Đà Nẵng has its own distinctive variation of it where the fish sauce is replaced with a brown sauce called nước tương (which usually means “soy sauce” in other contexts, but not here), and that is made of ground meat and fermented soy beans.
Both variations are delicious, making the choice between the two difficult. By default you will be served with the brown sauce but you can get the fish sauce variation if you manage to ask “với nước mắm”, meaning “with fish sauce”. As for the pronunciation, you can try something like “voey nook mam”.
The shop Cô Tâm located within the Chợ Bắc Mỹ An market has been my go-to place for lunchs as their bún thịt nướng is tasty, well garnished and cheap (15,000 VND). They quickly run out of food around lunch time but will redirect you to their second shop named Tâm, 10 meters away, which serves the exact same bún thịt nướng but also some assortment of noodles such as bánh bèo, bánh ướt, and bánh ít.
By night, when the market is closed, another place takes the shift, that is the Quán Ăn Xuân shop. The portions tend to be smaller but their fish sauce variation is so perfect that it quickly becomes addictive.
As with every noodles based dishes, mix well the content of the bowl before eating—a small amount of sauce lays at the bottom and needs to be used to cover each single bit of your meal or else it won’t be nearly as flavoury. If you believe that you haven’t been served with enough sauce, then ask for some more—if your bowl is entirely dry after eating, then it’s definitely a sign that you didn’t have enough.
If you are craving for a good sandwich, Đà Nẵng has plenty of them in the streets. If you also want to meet a highly welcoming, friendly, and smiling face, then you should head over to the Memory Cafe in the evening or during the week-end and meet with Thúy.
It’s not hard to see that she is genuinely passionate about her shop, that she loves interacting with her customers, and that she tries her best to prepare cheap but decent meals for the students around who can only afford the bare minimum. She is so lovely that I sometimes saw her giving away free breads to students in difficulty.
After taking her once to Bánh Mỳ Phượng in Hội An, she got inspired to improve her own sandwiches and ended up with a XL version called “Bánh Mì Memory”. It’s packed with everything, her homemade pâté is pretty good, and the whole works very well.
If you’re still hungry afterwards, give a go at her “xôi với chà bông”, that is a sticky rice (xôi) topped with (với) rousong (chà bông). A simple but surprisingly addictive dish.
I believe that she deserves all our support so make sure to pay her a visit if you pass nearby! The shop is also open during daytime but it will be her mum serving you instead (she is nice too!).
When I lived in Wellington, New Zealand, I used to often go to the Vietnamese restaurant next to my place with their fried rice (Cơm chiên) dish in mind. When I say often, I mean that I probably was their best client, ever. The same story got repeated when I made it to Vietnam and it still proved difficult to get bored with it. It always is a great go-to dish and is usually served in a large enough portion to stop any starving.
When bicycling in the city centre and noticing a restaurant packed with locals, I knew that I had to try it out. The restaurant Hà Nội Xưa is specialized in bún chả, itself a specialty from Hà Nội as the name says.
It might not look like it but it’s essentially a variation of a bún thịt nướng—it is made of grilled meat (thịt nướng) served with vermicelli noodles (bún) and a whole lot of not so salty fish sauce. The fish sauce actually reminds me a bit of apple ciders.
Note that the photo below doesn’t give any credit to the dish so you’ll have to trust me on this one—it’s some good shit!
Flat steamed rice dumplings (bánh nậm [vn]), steamed savoury rice cakes (bánh bèo), thin rice noodle sheets (bánh ướt), savoury rice pancakes (bánh xèo), filled sticky rice cake (bánh chưng), black sticky rice cake (bánh gai [vn]), orange-colored viscous soup with rice noodles (bánh canh nam phổ), and more, are what you’ll be able to find at any food market. But beware that some dishes are harder to get depending on the time. The bánh chưng for example are usually easier to find in the morning, while you’ll have more chances to get your hands on some bánh nậm early in the afternoon.
Also note that there are two variations of bánh bèo—the first one being a thin rice noodle with a circle shape, as seen above, and the second one being also a rice noodle but this time served in a small cup with a sauce topping, as per the photo below.
Vietnameses are also fond of sweets, but not in the sense that we’re used to. You won’t find much croissants, chocolate, cakes, and other Snickers. No, Vietnam is more about desserts based on the likes of beans, bean sprouts, corn, coconut, rice, and others, and is no less delicious.
Let yourself be tempted by either one of the desserts from the photo above. You’ll find the mixed pudding (chè thập cẩm) at Quán Chè Xuân Trang, the yoghurt with black rice (yaourt nê’p câm) at Vân Béo, and the avocado smoothie (sinh tố bơ) in many places such as Hồng Quyên. Enjoy!
I tend to focus solely on the local cuisine while traveling, and these go against my usual habit of running away from touristic places, but on the long term I eventually end up bending the rules on some rare occasions when I need a freakkin’ good pizza or something.
On this point, I didn’t expect much from Vietnam but I’ve been pleasingly surprised with Luna Pub, an Italian where you can find a large choice of greats pizzas for around $7 USD, as well as the Japanese restaurant Banjiro serving the biggest, cheapest, tastiest, and possibly most authentic Japanese dishes that I’ve had the chance to try so far. A single main dish will be more than enough, so brace yourself if you fall in the trap of ordering extra sushis and others sticks of grilled meat.